A female perspective on trade unionism in Iraq

See this fascinating interview at the International Trade Union Confederation website with Iraqi Kurdish trade unionist Jehan Seleem Ahmed from Dohuk. She underlines how the image of trade unions has improved in the eyes of the young women workers in the region. She says that there is a good level of education in Kurdistan and it is not too difficult to convince women to join a union. There are other regions in Iraq where it would be unthinkable for a man to let his wife take part in a seminar abroad. Here, mentalities are evolving.

Solidarity still needed

The New York Times splashes on an unpublished federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq which, it says, depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.
My view is that this illustrates the need for those who are concerned to help Iraqis rebuild their country after so many decades of destruction, war and isolation increasing their efforts in co-operation with civil society organisations such as the trade unions and Iraqi political forces.
Gary Kent

Iraqi Communist Party views on the Iraqi-American agreement

Media reports about Iraqi Communist Party meeting in Baghdad on the Iraq – U.S. Agreement
The Iraqi Communist Party organised a big meeting in Baghdad on Friday 30-10-2008 to present its position on the proposed Iraq – U.S. Agreement. The meeting, attended by about 1000 people, was addressed by Hameed Majid Mousa, the Secretary of the Central Committee of the party. The following are excerpts from media coverage of the event as reported by news agencies:
The leader of the Iraqi Communist Party, Hameed Majid Mousa, announced the party’s position, rejecting the security agreement in its present form, and calling for amendments to it, in addition to scheduling the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Mousa said the party will not agree to pass the Agreement with the U.S. unless the recent amendments demanded by the Iraqi government are made. He added that the American side is using illegitimate and deceitful means to pass the agreement as currently drafted
Mousa, who is also a member of the Iraqi parliament, said that the present draft agreement with its articles ‘does not fulfil the aspirations of the Iraqi people, and contains a lot of vagueness and uncertainty.
‘We must always demonstrate a high sense of responsibility with regard to the consequences of the agreement and its applications, in order to achieve the fundamental objective sought from it: the withdrawal or evacuation of foreign troops, and the Iraqi people regaining their sovereignty and independence. The armed forces must be qualified and provide the alternative to foreign troops. We are therefore facing an urgent and grave task that requires providing the prerequisites for an agreement that enables the Iraqis to secure their rights.’
The Iraqi CP leader stressed the need to have open and transparent negotiations as well as relying on the mobilization of the masses when demanding to amend the terms of the draft agreement, pointing to the lack of parity between the Iraqi and American negotiators.
He criticized what he described as the media campaign, by American and Arab media that dealt with agreement. ‘There has been a huge publicity campaign by U.S. media claiming that Iraq will return to the state of chaos that prevailed after the fall of the former regime in 2003, and that it would lose the aid and support given to it in the area of arming and training Iraqi security forces, and other matters, in an attempt to undermine the Iraqi side in the negotiations.’
Mousa described these threats as ‘nothing but hollow drums designed to force the Iraqi side to sign the security agreement with Washington against its will.’
He said: ‘If you have followed the U.S. media, you would be amazed by what has been said. Unfortunately, many of the Arab and regional media have also behaved in a similar manner, despite having different intentions. But they have exerted pressure, in various ways, on the Iraqi side and employed psychological warfare against the Iraqi negotiators.’
He drew attention to the need ‘to amend the terms concerning control over the American mail entering Iraq so that the Iraqi side has the authority to control and inspect it.’ In addition, ‘the powers of U.S. troops on Iraqi territory need to be specified.’ The agreement need to include ‘protection for Iraqi funds in all countries of the world, and not to be confined to Iraqi funds in U.S. banks.’
The Iraqi Communist Party leader pointed to the ratification by the Council of Ministers in the past few days of a memo that contained the demands of Iraqi political forces to amend the terms of the draft agreement, so as to form the basis for its conclusion. He called at the same time on the Iraqi parties to take a unified position through which a fair agreement can be secured without coercion or pressure directed on the Iraqi side.

LFIQ meets Iraqi Communist Party Organisation to establish dialogue

A delegation of the Iraqi Communist Party Organisation in Britain, led by its secretary Dr Shawkat Al-Asidi and Ali Shawkat, met Dave Anderson MP and Gary Kent of LFIQ at the Commons to establish a formal dialogue between the two organisations.
The ICP representatives stressed that their party supported current efforts to achieve national unity, combat sectarianism, build a democratic political process, end foreign military presence and regain full national sovereignty. They pointed out that the party and its leaders have played a role that is respected by other Iraqi forces.
Dave and Gary for LFIQ stressed the need for the British labour movement to listen most carefully to the views of the ICP and other Iraqi parties and forces seeking to rebuild Iraq and retrieve its sovereignty, after decades of isolation, war and terror.
All agreed on the need for upholding and defending human and democratic rights, and for full trade union rights in Iraq.
It was agreed to organise an open meeting in the Commons in the near future so that parliamentarians and trade unionists can engage with the views of the ICP.

Letter from Erbil, Baghdad and Blaydon

At Democratiya Gary Kent brings together two trips to Iraq and one to the North East, concluding that increasingly Iraqi forces are in the driving seat and are fighting to build a federal and democratic country. Iraq is not a lost cause. It may often be out of the news these days, and the progress is fragile, but its civil society and reformers deserve widespread understanding and support.

Red kite mark

Iraqi civil society is on the up. It can soar once more, says Gary Kent at Progress
11 August 2008
The reintroduction of the beautiful red kite bird in Blaydon and the revival of Iraq may seem distant but the possible link illustrates how Iraq is changing for the better.
The analogy arises from a recent trip to the north-east by Iraqis representing the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Islamic Dawa party of the Iraqi PM, Nourial-Maliki. They were guests of Dave Anderson, the local MP and joint president of LFIQ. We spent hours spotting kites and learning how a highly successful ecological project enthusiastically connected children, schools, businesses and public opinion to kites as a symbol of our relationship with the environment.
We discussed how such a project could work in Iraq. Should the equivalent of the kite be the eagle or the Ibex mountain goat. The point is that rapid change in Iraq allows discussions that go beyond mere survival towards how, in the cradle of civilisation, to build a new, more green society.
The dinar is dropping, so to speak – Iraq is on the mend. The Kurdistan Region is fairly autonomous, mostly peaceful and attracting investment. In February, an all-party parliamentary group visited the new airport which will have the fifth largest runway in the world and provide this landlocked region, surrounded by sometimes hostile neighbours, with a commercial bridge to the world.
A LFIQ report resulting from the trip honestly examines the region’s many achievements but also problems with women’s rights, corruption as well as disputes over the status of Kirkuk and oil production. Some problems can be overcome as government and civil society build their capacity, drawing on external experience and personnel, and some will best be resolved when security throughout Iraq is established.
And that is now being done. The insurgencies are being broken. Iraqis have drawn back from the civil war that nearly engulfed the country two years ago. Sunnis have turned on Al-Qaeda and are buying into the federal government.
Iraqis liberated Basra in March and ended the sectarian militias’ reign of terror against women and the activities of oil and arms smugglers. MPs proudly showed us plans to turn Basra into the biggest container port in the Middle East employing 500,000 people.
As part of a dialogue with the Islamic Dawa party, a LFIQ delegation visited the PM and others in May in the green zone. Our first day was accompanied by regular mortar attacks but that day turned out to be the last day on which militias lobbed missiles into the zone because the Iraqi army took back Sadr City and is now dealing with Sunni insurgents elsewhere. The Iraqi security forces are increasingly confident and capable. They now alone control over half the country and aim to have total control by the end of this year.
It’s wise to be cautious. Crowded markets are easy targets and Iraq’s neighbours have been deeply hostile to a revived Iraq. An Iraqi MP told us that their neighbours prefer Iraq to be a consumer rather than producer. The country’s rich geology – agriculture, oil, gas and other minerals – could make it a rich and powerful competitor.
Support for Iraqi trade unions movement is a key LFIQ aim. The movement was liquidated by Saddam and is rebuilding itself as a non-sectarian force which promotes women’s rights and contributes to a new democratic and federal settlement. It remains stymied by continuing bans and frozen funds (these rules aren’t applied in Kurdistan, where unions are social partners).
We met union leaders and then raised these restrictions directly with the PM who promised progress on which we hope to report soon. A strong labour movement can ensure that prosperity is infused with social justice, unlike other rich but soulless countries in the region.
However, all this is just the start. An adviser to the PM said that it took former Soviet bloc countries a decade to overcome Stalinism before anything else. The physical and psychological legacy of Ba’athist totalitarianism is arguably worse. And politics, civil society, the economy are all starting from scratch. This also enables Iraqis to find, for example, their equivalent of the red kite as part of rehabilitating Iraq and reintegrating it into the world community. Iraq used to be toxic in the region and a four letter word here. But we should be doing much more to assist them to stand on their own two feet, which is what they want, so Iraq can soar once more.
Gary Kent is director of Labour Friends of Iraq and has visited Iraq three times in the last two years.

Commons motion welcomes LFIQ delegation

Dave Anderson
That this House notes the recent Labour Friends of Iraq delegation to Baghdad as guests of the Islamic Dawa Party to meet the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, his advisers, the Defence Minister, the trade unions, a womens rights group, the head of the Commission for Public Integrity and others; and believes that such engagements should be encouraged more widely along with trade, investment and a wide variety of exchanges for mutual benefit.